We Are The Media: Reflecting on the Flawed Brilliance of Amanda Palmer

By Samantha Kelly
As seen as Wom*news #11: Women in Public

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Image: thisisfakediy.co.uk

Normally when I look back at my teenage self, I am both amused and embarrassed at how heavily I idolised particular musicians. Don’t get me wrong; I think a lot of artists have brilliant perspectives on politics, religion and, well… art.

 

But to hang on their every word…

To form crushes through a computer screen…

To turn giddish or speechless at a signing booth…

 

These things are childish. And unhealthy.

 

Right?

 

I’d like to think I have grown up. In most cases, I can safely say that I have stopped acting like a screaming fan-girl in the presence of my favourite artists.

 

But then… I went to watch Amanda Palmer play live at The Tivoli.

 

The gig was incredible. It had all of the theatrics, beauty and attitude I’d hoped for. But it also made me think hard about the way societies are conditioned to judge women in the public realm. And more specifically, how I myself judge musicians.

 

‘Do it With a Rockstar’ kicked off the set. Amanda jumped into the crowd and joined the mosh-pit. As people pulled and pushed one another around to get up-close, she grabbed the lapels of passionate fans, one after another, singing right into their faces. When she did this to me, I mouthed the words in time but no sound came out.

 

I was amazed by the very fact that someone whose words I regularly absorbed through a pair of headphones was right there, in amongst the crowd.

 

This was the person who inspired so many aspects of my feminist identity.

 

Whose music had at times made me laugh and cry simultaneously.

 

I’d loved Dresden Dolls since I was twelve. And as I developed an interest in Gender issues, I began to really admire Amanda Palmer, for her lyrics, blogs and interviews.

 

She openly wrote about masturbation, polyamory and abortion. She took pride in her body hair and her sexual orientation. Without realising, I’d labelled her as the ‘perfect’ feminist.

 

And so naturally, I was conflicted when groups of feminists began to raise criticisms about this woman.

 

Bloggers began to point out that some of the politically incorrect comments she’d made, including those which could be classified as ableist, transphobic and racist. As I further

investigated the events that had stirred controversy, I felt that these criticisms were well-justified. And I couldn’t just dismiss this.

This forced me to accept the fact that Amanda Palmer is not perfect.

But upon accepting this, I was able to appreciate her art and view her as a human being. To be at peace with the idea of holding high regard for a person, while also taking issue with some of their choices.

And this is the difference between the way I view artists now and the celebrity-worship mentality I used to have.

*

Something Amanda Palmer does particularly well is drawing her listeners’ attention to the gender biases in music criticism. The live track ‘Dear Daily Mail’ is by far my favourite thing on the internet this year.

It was written in response to a review of one of her performances in the UK. The review placed an extensive amount of focus on the fact that her breasts had ‘escaped’ her bra, rather than her actual music or performance. Upon introducing the song, she commented, “The funniest thing about this is that it happens all the time… but… I don’t think they knew.”

In the lyrics, she points out that she was “doing a number of things on that stage up to and including singing songs. But you chose to ignore that and instead you published a feature review of my boobs.”

She then calls the Daily Mail ‘sad’ for it’s “focus on debasing women’s appearance.” She highlights the double-standards, screaming “I’m tired of these ‘baby-bumps’, ‘vag-flashes’, ‘muffin-tops’… where are the news-worthy cocks?”.

The song ends brilliantly: ‘When Iggy or Jagger or Bowie go shirtless the news rarely causes a ripple. Blah blah blah feminist, blah blah blah gender-shit. Blah-blah-blah, oh my god- nipple.’

I interpret these last lines as a three-way satirical statement, poking fun at dominant reactions to feminism and the ridiculously large stigma attached to breasts, while also embodying Palmer’s characteristic references to the conventions of song writing.

 

I watched this leading up to the concert and felt it overshadow the critical stance I had previously developed.

The concert itself was without exaggeration one of the best performance I had attended in years. It was full of humour, audience interaction, and a mixture of songs covering personal and political issues.

Both opening acts were chosen by Amanda herself, who appeared at the beginning of the show to introduce them. She returned again as a dancer during the last track of the first band, a German comedy duo called ‘Die Roten Punkte’.

It is clear to me that dominant ideologies impact on critical responses to women in the music industry such as Amanda Palmer. But in a similar way, I admit that my adoration for Amanda Palmer’s music affects my own ability to make objective judgments about her as a feminist.

Nonetheless, it has also occurred to me that that numerous artists who don’t express any political opinions remain unscathed by these criticisms. It is only once we begin to view someone as a spokesperson for a particular cause that we expect flawlessneess.

And at the end of the day, Amanda Palmer is an artist. Not a politician or an anthropologist.

I still believe artists are responsible for what they say and how it affects people. And Amanda Palmer has said some offensive things; but she has also written some amazing music and sparked some very critical discussions.

 

Though Amanda Palmer did not perform ‘Dear Daily Mail’ in Brisbane, she did play ‘Gaga, Palmer, Madonna.’ This track explores how female pop-musicians have continued to face challenges throughout several decades. It also raises questions about how we define art.

As the lead Dresden Doll and as a solo-artist, Amanda Palmer has achieved a lot. And while it is healthy to remain critical about public figures, it is also important to question the standards against which we are evaluating women in art.

At the end of the day, Amanda Palmer is not the sole epitome of feminist progression. Nor is she the leading cause of widespread misogyny.

Amanda Palmer is an artist, a woman and a human being.

~ Samantha Kelly

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4 thoughts on “We Are The Media: Reflecting on the Flawed Brilliance of Amanda Palmer

  1. mika cooper says:

    Bloggers began to point out that some of the politically incorrect comments she’d made, including those which could be classified as ableist, transphobic and racist. As I further

    investigated the events that had stirred controversy, I felt that these criticisms were well-justified. And I couldn’t just dismiss this.

    Evidence??? I don’t disagree. I believe Amanda’s views on culture can vary from brilliant to appalling (as can everyone’s, mine and yours included). But your post here says nothing about why you reject some of Amanda’s views. Isn’t that fundamental to the idea of this post? What’s she said exactly that you object to, and why?

  2. theladytaxdiary says:

    I understood the point of the author, and the central idea of the post, is that it’s not WHAT she objects to that’s important, but that it’s ok to not like aspects of ‘public’ women – for whatever reason- and yet still admire them. I think the expectation of perfection from ‘objects’ of our admiration is a projection of our own impossible expectations of perfection from ourselves.

  3. Samantha says:

    Apologies for not elaborating. I should have worded that differently to read ‘I felt that SOME OF these criticisms were well-justified’ and I am genuinely sorry that I didn’t pick up on this before submitting. That is something I didn’t communicate properly, and so thankyou for pointing that out.

    I also failed to admit that there may be parts of the story I don’t know, because I was VERY late in signing up to Twitter and so a lot of the time I have been reading second-hand accounts of what occurred over Twitter and following links from there. I have tried to get as much information as possible, but there is always the potential for gaps and so if there are events/responses I am unaware of, I’m open to reading.

    I am not one hundred percent certain about my views on everything and have found that regardless of what stance I decide to take, there will always be inconsistencies in my opinions. And one of the things I am always still constantly re-thinking is the whole issue of political correctness and authorial intent vs. consequence.
    One of my biggest problems is ‘Evelyn Evelyn.’ Particuarly reading accounts from people who have disabilities who were offended by the project, which they felt plays into a lot of stereotypes and tropes. It is interesting that whilst one of the primary posts criticising the project describes the characters as being obviously fictional, some of the commenters have said that they were not immediately aware of this.

    I wasn’t completely satisfied with her response to the criticism. Again, there were some things I feel she articulated well. But I also felt like too much of her justification was based upon her not intending to offend people, being misunderstood as an artist, and the fact that she personally knows people with disabilities that weren’t offended.

    To me, it addressed a lot of the overblown criticisms, the impossibilities of being perfect 24/7, but in my opinion did not thoroughly and truly acknowledge how this has hurt and disappointed actual people today who have disabilities, many of whom are fans themselves.

    I have a really big problem with the tone she takes here toward ‘disabled feminists’. http://hoydenabouttown.com/20100302.7291/not-your-punchline-amanda-palmer/

    The story she tells here (The story starts around five minutes into the video) I am rather torn about. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h57XWrFNGs8&feature=youtu.be Obviously losing a loved one is very personal and everyone deals with it in different ways. In the earlier parts of the story she seems to acknowledge that staging a suicide is maybe not a good idea, ‘I was eighteen and that’s how I thought’, but I’m uncomfortable with the attitude she seems to take at the end, which in my eyes hinges on defending it. I would personally consider it an emotionally manipulative act.

    I also feel that her responses to criticisms tend to frame artists as being above everyone else. Again, that may not be her intention and it would be interesting to hear her address this more directly, but that is the impression that some people (including myself) get.

    Some of her blog posts really encourage people to discuss and challenge what she does. Other times there seems to be too so much emphasis on HER INTENTION as an artist and a sort of dismissive tone toward people who perceive things differently to her intention.

    I don’t believe in the other extreme which is that everyone is obligated to avoid offending anyone, ever. Everyone draws the line at a different place (for example, I’m more inclined to defend the track ‘Oasis). I think you can appreciate shock value and still find some things offensive in a way that is not transgressive.

    Again, this is all very opinion-based, but these are things that she has said/done that initially don’t sit well with me. I completely agree with what you said about how everyone’s views on culture can range from brilliant to appalling. I think because I deeply admire her, the things I don’t agree with seem more troubling to me initially than, say, a celebrity I don’t take any particular interest in. And so this review/opinion piece is about admiring someone, keeping a critical stance and trying not to be consumed by it.

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